Very, very little is actually known about William Shakespeare the man. For a man who wrote so much and had such a great influence on his own day as well as ours, he himself is hidden in the mist. But the mysteries surrounding him are not for lack of autobiographers and scholars who would like to pen the final and authoritative work on him.
And when people are seeking to get to know the real William Shakespeare, they turn primarily not to his 33 plays, but to his sonnets. These are by far the most personal of his writings that have survived.
Yet, despite the intensely personal nature of them, no one can say for sure either who the boy with sable curls was nor who the dark lady was. There are speculations. Many speculations. But in the end such speculations are really no matter. It is the sonnets that matter most.
His 154 sonnets are a set. They fit together. Our understanding and enjoyment of any one of them is enhanced by our acquaintance with each of the rest of them. But it is not a sequence, as was the Sonnets From the Portuguese. There is no reason or need to read these in order. Any order will do, but the more of these sonnets one becomes familiar with the more beautiful becomes each one. Together they make a whole
Since I left you mine eye is in my mind,
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his functions and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape, which it doth latch:
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rudest or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour or deformed'st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow or dove, it shapes them to your feature:
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth 's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.